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BWW Review: Turkey Creek Collective Presents the Local Premiere of the Odd and Moving (I AM) NOBODY'S LUNCH


What a cast!

BWW Review: Turkey Creek Collective Presents the Local Premiere of the Odd and Moving (I AM) NOBODY'S LUNCH

"When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." --from John Ford's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

"If enough people believe something to be becomes true." --from (I AM) NOBODY'S LUNCH

"There is no truth; there is only authenticity." --also from (I AM) NOBODY'S LUNCH

Shock and Awe. Mission: Accomplished. Weapons of Mass Destruction. Remember those words? 2003 may be eighteen years ago, but it feels like thirty years ago, maybe forty. It might as well be a lifetime ago. There was certainly internet back then, but social media hadn't yet strangled the public with its Twitter and Facebook hold. Although cell phones were everywhere, they were limited in what they could actually do. The top song that year was "In da Club" by 50 Cent, and The Lord of the Rings would finish its filmic trilogy. Reality TV would be the rage, but "The Apprentice," starring Donald Trump, wasn't even on the air yet.

The main thing about 2003, the thing that historians will focus on, was President George W. Bush, with a little help from his friends and foes in congress, using post-9/11 paranoia to push lies and propaganda in order to invade Iraq, a country that had nothing to do with 9/11. But that's not all folks...the pubic would rally behind that effort by alarming numbers. I remember the debates I would have with family members, and they said the same thing to me to justify their support for the war: "The government must know something we do not." So, imagine the flashback I had while watching the show (I AM) NOBODY'S LUNCH, and I hear a character say those exact words: "The government must know something!"

Based on interviews conducted with the real people of 2003, (I AM) NOBODY'S LUNCH, presented by the Turkey Creek Collective, chiefly explores the public's reaction and allowance to the invasion of Iraq, where so many Americans chose to believe their government. Information was manipulated by powerful people, and the rest fell into place. "It's scary how easy it is," one song mentions.

But this description of the show makes it sound didactic, lecturing, like some snoozer of a history lesson. (I AM) NOBODY'S LUNCH may be a lot of things, but boring isn't one of them. It's alive, brilliantly theatrical, and perfect for the small black box space at The Mar in St. Petersburg.

The full title of the show is: (I AM) NOBODY'S LUNCH: A CABARET ABOUT HOW WE KNOW WHAT WE KNOW WHEN NOBODY KNOWS IF EVERYONE ELSE IS LYING AND WHEN SOMEONE OR SOMETHING WANTS TO HAVE YOU FOR LUNCH. Created and written by Steve Cosson, with music and lyrics by the late great Michael Friedman, there's not another show quite like it. It's a cabaret, with songs both bouncy and torchy, but it's more than that. It's like a quirky collage, a found object performance piece. You never know what's going to come next; it may be the most unpredictable show I have seen in recent memory.

It's also laugh-out-loud funny. But it's the type of humor that packs a punch, that smacks you in the crotch without flinching. It's pocked with much hilarity, but there's a sadness underneath it all, the sadness of everyday people believing a big lie. And if you think "what does 2003 have to do with me today," then if anything, this show predicts our current situation, including the Big Lie propagated about "stolen" elections and even the January 6th insurrection where that ultimately led. We haven't changed, have we; we're only crazier now than we were then (and, judging by those interviewed, we were pretty crazy then). We still believe anything if it suits our purposes. So, funny as much of the play is, it is a tragedy of incalculable proportions, a tragedy we still are living through.

Director Nick Hoop has assembled quite an ensemble, some of the strongest performers in our area, all of them playing a variety of roles: Roxanne Fay, Susan Haldeman, Sydney Reddish, Robert "Spence" Gabriel, Jen Diaz, and Travis Xavier Brown. Wow, that's quite a coup of a cast.

Although it's a true ensemble work, each cast member has her or his various standout moments. There's an instance where Ms. Fay, one of area's strongest performers, seems to be possessed by the spirit of a teenager; watching her you see a sixteen year old come to life before your eyes. Her opening spiel put the audience in just the right frame of mind.

Ms. Haldeman's so good as a special ed teacher discussing torture. She even showcases her singing chops, with a drink in her hand, belting as if her life depended on it and shaking the rafters in the process.

Ms. Diaz is so real, so likable, that you find yourself caught off-guard by the power of her monologues; an incredible talent.

Ms. Reddish, playing a succession of Jessica Lynch's (chosen from the phone book after the Jessica Lynch of the Iraq war became a household name), boasts tremendous ability, a stunning stage presence and a simply marvelous singing voice.

Mr. Gabriel, looking like a young Carlos Santana mixed with Ethan Hawke, is quite a find in our area, with a phenomenal voice (hitting some glorious notes) and a versatility that is awesome to behold; he even gets to display his skills with the guitar near the end. And he utters/sings one of the more memorable lines from the show, one filled with so much sadness: "I want to die for something...'cause there's nothing for me here."

And Mr. Brown is the standout among standouts, where he uses his deep bass voice to such an effect that it sounds like Rod Serling playing Darth Vader in slow motion. I saw Mr. Brown in Superior Donuts seven years ago, and his performance rocked me as one of the best of the decade. Watching him here, his promise then has now been fulfilled. He's heading off for his MFA at the Academy for Classical Acting at George Washington University this fall, and after out, we will be hearing much from this incredibly talented soul.

There's a quirky fringe feeling to the show, and although the production is 100% scripted, the actors are so natural that it only feels improvised. In their monologues, they look straight ahead, and answer the interviewers' questions (we do not hear the interviewers or the questions), each one so focused that you imagine that you actually do hear the interviewer. The actors proves their collective salt, both with their acting and their singing, with their focus and their versatility. There is not a weak link in the bunch.

There's a seventh cast member on the stage, and that's musical director and local genius, Michael Raabe, at the keyboards, guiding the show's tempo, energy and joy. The songs are a hoot, with titles like "Schrodinger's Cat" (whether a hypothetical cat may be both alive and dead due to some subatomic situation that may, or may not, have happened). Or my favorite, "Disenchantment," led by the incomparable Ms. Haldeman, which sounds like a lost Kander and Ebb classic, melding Cabaret's title-tune with "Money."

There's an upbeat quality to some of the songs, and they come across as demented Up with People routines, complete with smiley head bobs and jazz hands. There's a song about the questionable sexuality of Tom Cruise complete with Tom Cruise masks. And there is one duet between Ms. Diaz and Ms. Reddish that is exquisitely accomplished with out-of-the-park homerun harmonies.

The set is simple, minimal, complete with George W. Bush smiling from various photos and a G.I. Joe doll holding an American flag. There's also a giant lizard mask on the set, but nobody actually dons it during the performance. The lighting by Heather Hamar works effectively, especially the green light that bathes Mr. Brown in his more hypnotically outlandish moments. Harrison Baxley's sound is appropriately seamless, and I particularly appreciated the pre-show choice of music, specifically "Kids in America," "Elbow Room" and "American Idiot."

(I AM) NOBODY'S LUNCH is the perfect vehicle for the aforementioned Mr. Hoop. He directs with such passion, such confidence, such bravery, that it's still hard to believe he's still in his early-to-mid twenties. Hoop is nothing short of a virtuoso, but there's an originality in his staging, a joy of the oddities of life. The show is sensationally strange, exuberantly so. It's brilliance mixed with quirk. This is not Annie or Rent; this is something you will not see anywhere else, and it's not for everyone. It's a peculiar experience, like an autist's dream of 2003, and Hoop leads the way with precision, guiding actors to connect, to be their best, which in this case, with this cast, is the best.

I've seen two highly original, highly deranged, breathtaking shows this year--Shockheaded Peter at Jobsite and (I AM) NOBODY'S LUNCH at the Mar. Both shows couldn't be more different, but they share a love of the bizarre. The main difference is, with the Jobsite show, everything was upfront, dark material lovingly sung in a sort of freak show. Although (I AM) NOBODY'S LUNCH is a cabaret, it's very moving, dire at times, something that wallops us in the gut. Because we live in this reality. SHOCKHEADED PETER is a funny, over-the-top take on a scary children's book; (I AM) NOBODY'S LUNCH is just scary. Behind the singing, behind the smiles, behind the vocals, behind the laughter, there is fear. So much fear. And, sadly, we are still there.

(I AM) NOBODY'S LUNCH presented by the Turkey Creek Collective has three more performances left: Saturday, July 24, at 3:00 PM and 8:00 PM, and Sunday, July 25, at 3:00 PM. At the Mar in St. Pete: 2309 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, FL 33713.

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